Former Afghan warlord says he can defeat Taliban

David Pugliese ,  For CanWest News Service

Published: Thursday, May 10 2007

SHEBIRGHAN, Afghanistan - A former Afghan warlord who helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban in late-2001 says he can do the same thing again if President Hamid Karzai and his international military backers just give him the word.

Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum says he could raise 10,000 seasoned combat veterans from the days of fighting the Taliban to crush the ongoing insurgency. His proposal would involve Afghan soldiers from all the country's ethnic groups, fighting alongside another 10,000 troops from the international forces.

"Then you would see what will happen in just six months," he said through an interpreter in a rare interview from his stronghold in northern Afghanistan. "If President Karzai gives me the power, I can guarantee him and assure the international community and the people of Afghanistan that we can play a significant role in defeating and breaking the back of the Taliban."

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The joint force would pursue and destroy the Taliban, Dostum says, even if it has to go into the lawless Pakistani territories along the border with Afghanistan, a key recruitment and operational base for the Taliban.

Dostum, 53, is currently chief of staff of the Afghan army, but his position is considered largely ceremonial. In fact, some senior government members don't trust him and worry that he is consolidating his power and secretly rearming his forces.

Dostum denies this, pointing out that he was the first to disarm and support Afghan's elected government.

The general has survived over the decades by making deals with various powerbrokers in Afghanistan. He fought with the Soviets during the bloody occupation and war that engulfed the country from 1979 to 1989. Later, he threw his support behind anti-Communist forces.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks on the United States, Dostum's troops helped American special forces and CIA operatives defeat the Taliban. The general's tanks and cavalry, backed by U.S. air power, routed the Taliban in a matter of months.

Dostum, whose men have a reputation as ruthless and skilled fighters, has been accused of war crimes for his actions both during Afghanistan's earlier wars and following the Taliban defeat.

Dostum says NATO and the U.S. are making a mistake by building the Afghan national army along the lines of a western military force because ANA troops are no match for seasoned Taliban fighters. The answer, he maintains, are the hardened combat veterans from Afghanistan's past wars.

"The Taliban are recruiting people who know war and suffering and have nothing to lose," he explained. "Of course they will be tougher than the ANA recruits."

NATO and the U.S. see the ANA as key to their eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan. Afghan troops are already fighting alongside international forces and NATO hopes that the Afghan army will take on an increasing role on the battlefield.

Dostum says he warned Karzai in 2002 that although the Taliban were on the run, they should be pursued and destroyed. In the following years, he continued to caution the Afghan government that if something wasn't done about Taliban remnants, they would regroup. His warnings were ignored, he says.


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